Friday, January 8, 2010

Traffic Laws

The first time I sat behind the wheel of an automobile it was on the corner of 87th Street and 3rd Avenue. I was 17. I learned to drive on the upper east and west sides of Manhattan with a driver's ed teacher. I took my driving test in Queens. Until I was 21 years old, I had never driven on a highway.

This is what it's like to grow up in Manhattan.

But I liked driving and, after a summer driving around Europe, I was pretty decent at it. Highways? No problem. (Unless speeding is a problem.) Paris at rush hour? No problem. It's kind of like Manhattan driving but with circles. The one area where I had both little experience and little talent was suburban driving for the simple reason that I had never done it.

So I won't lie, I was a little apprehensive about being a daily suburban driver. But, like with many other things, after you do it enough, it becomes second nature.


You see, there are rules I have never had to learn and so I might be committing a variety of ticketable infractions on a daily basis.

This morning, it snowed. Now my brain knows that during precipitation, you turn your lights on. However, my car has daytime running lights. Are those sufficient for inclement driving or do I need to turn on my night lights? Would I get pulled over and given a ticket for failure to do so? Could I plead ignorance of the differences between daytime and nightttime lights?

Similarly we have a number of unfamiliar stoplights in town that I am fairly certain I am not using correctly. The configuration is thus: one red light atop two sets of yellows and greens, one of the greens is a turn signal. While the red light is still illuminated the green turn signal light will also go on, signaling that cars in that specified lane can turn. Ok. Fine. Easy. However, what happens next is incredibly confusing. The red light will go out; the green turn light will go out; and the other green light will go on. Now I know this means that cars in the non-turning lane are now free to go. But does it mean a)that cars in the turning lane are also free to go provided there are no oncoming cars or b)cars in the turning lane may no longer go. I happen to believe that the latter explanation is stupid as it would allow cars in the turning lane a mere 10 seconds per light change to participate in forward movement, so I assume the former. And I don't know if I'm just biding my time until I get a moving violation (don't even get me started on the scenario when it's a right-turn signal at an intersection where cars CAN go right on red. What the hell is the point of a dedicated turn signal when cars in that lane can pretty much go WHENEVER there's an opening?)

The stoptionals I engage in on a daily basis? These I know are wrong, but my neighborhood is generally empty and I really don't feel compelled to come to a complete stop at EVERY corner when a slight 5 MPH pause is more than enough to ascertain if cars are coming in the other directions. But these others... I won't lie, I get a little stressed out.

So if the Greenwich and/or Port Chester cops are reading this (as I know they are huge fans), if you see me break the law in front of you, could you please cut me some slack and understand that even though I now have a CT driver's license, it should, in no way, indicate that I am fully conversant in your ways. After all, while there are many of your mores that elude me, I am fully aware that the speed limit in Manhattan is 35 MPH. And that's not nothing.

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